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I put my proposal in to last night. The conference will be in Wellington for 2010, in January. My talk is about technical writing for open source projects, and I've called it "Creating beautiful open source technical documentation". That was a little boring, though, so I gave it a subtitle: "Writing FOSS docs that don't suck". Better :)

For posterity, I'm recording the abstract here:

Creating beautiful open source technical documentation (or: writing FOSS docs that don't suck), is a look into why documentation is so important to open source projects. Many open source projects are created by very small teams of dedicated individuals. In this situation, the importance of effective documentation often goes unrecognised and technical writers are viewed as an unnecessary expense.

Documentation, particularly in an open source project, is all too often created by people who are very close to the technical minutiae. The end result is a documentation suite that starts at a point beyond the users' understanding, and rapidly becomes more complicated. The user gets lost at step one, and throws away the documentation - and the software - as a lost cause.

Standard usability guidelines for software development apply equally to creating documentation. When the focus is put on the user, and what the user needs to achieve, then it is possible to create documentation that takes them beyond merely using the software, and on to enjoying it.

This presentation explores the different facets of documentation usability. It explains how to create documentation that will empower your users, guide them through the somewhat daunting learning curve of using new software, and in the process make your project look fantastic. Beautiful technical documentation might sound like a completely unrealistic fairy tale, but it can make the difference between a successful project, and a wildly successful one.


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